JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — Religious leaders, activists and elected officials in Missouri slammed the Republican-led House Wednesday for disrupting a black lawmaker’s speech and passing a bill that could disempower a black woman elected as a state attorney. St. Louis.
“You might have silenced our representatives for a minute,” the Rev. Darryl Gray told dozens of fellow racial justice activists during a rally outside the Capitol. “But what you ended up doing (is) you forced our voice to get louder. You forced us to introduce ourselves.
The House passed legislation last week to allow Republican Gov. Mike Parson to appoint a special prosecutor to handle violent crimes in areas with high homicide rates, such as St. Louis. The bill is part of a Republican push for anti-crime legislation this session.
State Representative Kevin Windham, a black Democrat from St. Louis County, was reading aloud a story about similar legislation in Mississippi during the House debate when some white Republican lawmakers objected that his speech had nothing to do with Missouri.
House Speaker Dean Plocher shut out Windham, cutting his speech short. Windham’s microphone was off. House Majority Leader Jon Patterson then introduced a motion to stop debate on the bill, which the Republican majority voted to do, leaving other black Democrats standing without having their turn to speak.
Patterson last week defended his role in stalling the debate, saying “the conversation was devolving” and that the race “didn’t play a role in deciding it was time to vote on the bill.”
St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s Office Kim Gardner released a statement calling the legislation “a political stunt.”
The discord in the Missouri House came days after a similar upheaval in Mississippi, where black lawmakers denounced the majority-white, Republican-led legislature for voting to disempower local leaders in the predominantly black city of Jackson.
As in Mississippi, the Missouri legislature has a largely white Republican majority. Most black legislators represent the state’s two largest urban areas of St. Louis and Kansas City.
By the time of the rally, many lawmakers had already left the Capitol to travel to Kansas City to celebrate the Chiefs’ second Super Bowl championship in four NFL seasons.